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    Book 6 - Chapter 4

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    Chapter 43
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    Brother and Sister

    Maggie was obliged to go to Tom's lodgings in the middle of the day,
    when he would be coming in to dinner, else she would not have found
    him at home. He was not lodging with entire strangers. Our friend Bob
    Jakin had, with Mumps's tacit consent, taken not only a wife about
    eight months ago, but also one of those queer old houses, pierced with
    surprising passages, by the water-side, where, as he observed, his
    wife and mother could keep themselves out of mischief by letting out
    two "pleasure-boats," in which he had invested some of his savings,
    and by taking in a lodger for the parlor and spare bedroom. Under
    these circumstances, what could be better for the interests of all
    parties, sanitary considerations apart, than that the lodger should be
    Mr. Tom?

    It was Bob's wife who opened the door to Maggie. She was a tiny woman,
    with the general physiognomy of a Dutch doll, looking, in comparison
    with Bob's mother, who filled up the passage in the rear, very much
    like one of those human figures which the artist finds conveniently
    standing near a colossal statue to show the proportions. The tiny
    woman curtsied and looked up at Maggie with some awe as soon as she
    had opened the door; but the words, "Is my brother at home?" which
    Maggie uttered smilingly, made her turn round with sudden excitement,
    and say,--

    "Eh, mother, mother--tell Bob!--it's Miss Maggie! Come in, Miss, for
    goodness do," she went on, opening a side door, and endeavoring to
    flatten her person against the wall to make the utmost space for the
    visitor.

    Sad recollections crowded on Maggie as she entered the small parlor,
    which was now all that poor Tom had to call by the name of
    "home,"--that name which had once, so many years ago, meant for both
    of them the same sum of dear familiar objects. But everything was not
    strange to her in this new room; the first thing her eyes dwelt on was
    the large old Bible, and the sight was not likely to disperse the old
    memories. She stood without speaking.

    "If you please to take the privilege o' sitting down, Miss," said Mrs.
    Jakin, rubbing her apron over a perfectly clean chair, and then
    lifting up the corner of that garment and holding it to her face with
    an air of embarrassment, as she looked wonderingly at Maggie.

    "Bob is at home, then?" said Maggie, recovering herself, and smiling
    at the bashful Dutch doll.

    "Yes, Miss; but I think he must be washing and dressing himself; I'll
    go and see," said Mrs. Jakin, disappearing.

    But she presently came back walking with new courage a little way
    behind her husband, who showed the brilliancy of his blue eyes and
    regular white teeth in the doorway, bowing respectfully.

    "How do you do, Bob?" said Maggie, coming forward and putting out her
    hand to him; "I always meant to pay your wife a visit, and I shall
    come another day on purpose for that, if she will let me. But I was
    obliged to come to-day to speak to my brother."

    "He'll be in before long, Miss. He's doin' finely, Mr. Tom is; he'll
    be one o' the first men hereabouts,--you'll see that."

    "Well, Bob, I'm sure he'll be indebted to you, whatever he becomes; he
    said so himself only the other night, when he was talking of you."

    "Eh, Miss, that's his way o' takin' it. But I think the more on't when
    he says a thing, because his tongue doesn't overshoot him as mine
    does. Lors! I'm no better nor a tilted bottle, I ar'n't,--I can't stop
    mysen when once I begin. But you look rarely, Miss; it does me good to
    see you. What do you say now, Prissy?"--here Bob turned to his
    wife,--"Isn't it all come true as I said? Though there isn't many
    sorts o' goods as I can't over-praise when I set my tongue to't."

    Mrs. Bob's small nose seemed to be following the example of her eyes
    in turning up reverentially toward Maggie, but she was able now to
    smile and curtsey, and say, "I'd looked forrard like aenything to
    seein' you, Miss, for my husband's tongue's been runnin' on you, like
    as if he was light-headed, iver since first he come a-courtin' on me."

    "Well, well," said Bob, looking rather silly. "Go an' see after the
    taters, else Mr. Tom 'ull have to wait for 'em."

    "I hope Mumps is friendly with Mrs. Jakin, Bob," said Maggie, smiling.
    "I remember you used to say he wouldn't like your marrying."

    "Eh, Miss," said Bob, "he made up his mind to't when he see'd what a
    little un she was. He pretends not to see her mostly, or else to think
    as she isn't full-growed. But about Mr. Tom, Miss," said Bob, speaking
    lower and looking serious, "he's as close as a iron biler, he is; but
    I'm a 'cutish chap, an' when I've left off carrying my pack, an' am at
    a loose end, I've got more brains nor I know what to do wi', an' I'm
    forced to busy myself wi' other folks's insides. An' it worrets me as
    Mr. Tom'll sit by himself so glumpish, a-knittin' his brow, an'
    a-lookin' at the fire of a night. He should be a bit livelier now, a
    fine young fellow like him. My wife says, when she goes in sometimes,
    an' he takes no notice of her, he sits lookin' into the fire, and
    frownin' as if he was watchin' folks at work in it."

    "He thinks so much about business," said Maggie.

    "Ay," said Bob, speaking lower; "but do you think it's nothin' else,
    Miss? He's close, Mr. Tom is; but I'm a 'cute chap, I am, an' I
    thought tow'rt last Christmas as I'd found out a soft place in him. It
    was about a little black spaniel--a rare bit o' breed--as he made a
    fuss to get. But since then summat's come over him, as he's set his
    teeth again' things more nor iver, for all he's had such good luck.
    An' I wanted to tell _you_, Miss, 'cause I thought you might work it
    out of him a bit, now you're come. He's a deal too lonely, and doesn't
    go into company enough."

    "I'm afraid I have very little power over him, Bob," said Maggie, a
    good deal moved by Bob's suggestion. It was a totally new idea to her
    mind that Tom could have his love troubles. Poor fellow!--and in love
    with Lucy too! But it was perhaps a mere fancy of Bob's too officious
    brain. The present of the dog meant nothing more than cousinship and
    gratitude. But Bob had already said, "Here's Mr. Tom," and the outer
    door was opening.

    "There is no time to spare, Tom," said Maggie, as soon as Bob left the
    room. "I must tell you at once what I came about, else I shall be
    hindering you from taking your dinner."

    Tom stood with his back against the chimney-piece, and Maggie was
    seated opposite the light. He noticed that she was tremulous, and he
    had a presentiment of the subject she was going to speak about. The
    presentiment made his voice colder and harder as he said, "What is
    it?"

    This tone roused a spirit of resistance in Maggie, and she put her
    request in quite a different form from the one she had predetermined
    on. She rose from her seat, and looking straight at Tom, said,--

    "I want you to absolve me from my promise about Philip Wakem. Or
    rather, I promised you not to see him without telling you. I am come
    to tell you that I wish to see him."

    "Very well," said Tom, still more coldly.

    But Maggie had hardly finished speaking in that chill, defiant manner,
    before she repented, and felt the dread of alienation from her
    brother.

    "Not for myself, dear Tom. Don't be angry. I shouldn't have asked it,
    only that Philip, you know, is a friend of Lucy's and she wishes him
    to come, has invited him to come this evening; and I told her I
    couldn't see him without telling you. I shall only see him in the
    presence of other people. There will never be anything secret between
    us again."

    Tom looked away from Maggie, knitting his brow more strongly for a
    little while. Then he turned to her and said, slowly and
    emphatically,--

    "You know what is my feeling on that subject, Maggie. There is no need
    for my repeating anything I said a year ago. While my father was
    living, I felt bound to use the utmost power over you, to prevent you
    from disgracing him as well as yourself, and all of us. But now I must
    leave you to your own choice. You wish to be independent; you told me
    so after my father's death. My opinion is not changed. If you think of
    Philip Wakem as a lover again, you must give up me."

    "I don't wish it, dear Tom, at least as things are; I see that it
    would lead to misery. But I shall soon go away to another situation,
    and I should like to be friends with him again while I am here. Lucy
    wishes it."

    The severity of Tom's face relaxed a little.

    "I shouldn't mind your seeing him occasionally at my uncle's--I don't
    want you to make a fuss on the subject. But I have no confidence in
    you, Maggie. You would be led away to do anything."

    That was a cruel word. Maggie's lip began to tremble.

    "Why will you say that, Tom? It is very hard of you. Have I not done
    and borne everything as well as I could? And I kept my word to
    you--when--when----My life has not been a happy one, any more than
    yours."

    She was obliged to be childish; the tears would come. When Maggie was
    not angry, she was as dependent on kind or cold words as a daisy on
    the sunshine or the cloud; the need of being loved would always subdue
    her, as, in old days, it subdued her in the worm-eaten attic. The
    brother's goodness came uppermost at this appeal, but it could only
    show itself in Tom's fashion. He put his hand gently on her arm, and
    said, in the tone of a kind pedagogue,--

    "Now listen to me, Maggie. I'll tell you what I mean. You're always in
    extremes; you have no judgment and self-command; and yet you think you
    know best, and will not submit to be guided. You know I didn't wish
    you to take a situation. My aunt Pullet was willing to give you a good
    home, and you might have lived respectably amongst your relations,
    until I could have provided a home for you with my mother. And that is
    what I should like to do. I wished my sister to be a lady, and I
    always have taken care of you, as my father desired, until you were
    well married. But your ideas and mine never accord, and you will not
    give way. Yet you might have sense enough to see that a brother, who
    goes out into the world and mixes with men, necessarily knows better
    what is right and respectable for his sister than she can know
    herself. You think I am not kind; but my kindness can only be directed
    by what I believe to be good for you."

    "Yes, I know, dear Tom," said Maggie, still half-sobbing, but trying
    to control her tears. "I know you would do a great deal for me; I know
    how you work, and don't spare yourself. I am grateful to you. But,
    indeed, you can't quite judge for me; our natures are very different.
    You don't know how differently things affect me from what they do
    you."

    "Yes, I _do_ know; I know it too well. I know how differently you must
    feel about all that affects our family, and your own dignity as a
    young woman, before you could think of receiving secret addresses from
    Philip Wakem. If it was not disgusting to me in every other way, I
    should object to my sister's name being associated for a moment with
    that of a young man whose father must hate the very thought of us all,
    and would spurn you. With any one but you, I should think it quite
    certain that what you witnessed just before my father's death would
    secure you from ever thinking again of Philip Wakem as a lover. But I
    don't feel certain of it with you; I never feel certain about anything
    with _you_. At one time you take pleasure in a sort of perverse
    self-denial, and at another you have not resolution to resist a thing
    that you know to be wrong."

    There was a terrible cutting truth in Tom's words,--that hard rind of
    truth which is discerned by unimaginative, unsympathetic minds. Maggie
    always writhed under this judgment of Tom's; she rebelled and was
    humiliated in the same moment; it seemed as if he held a glass before
    her to show her her own folly and weakness, as if he were a prophetic
    voice predicting her future fallings; and yet, all the while, she
    judged him in return; she said inwardly that he was narrow and unjust,
    that he was below feeling those mental needs which were often the
    source of the wrong-doing or absurdity that made her life a planless
    riddle to him.

    She did not answer directly; her heart was too full, and she sat down,
    leaning her arm on the table. It was no use trying to make Tom feel
    that she was near to him. He always repelled her. Her feeling under
    his words was complicated by the allusion to the last scene between
    her father and Wakem; and at length that painful, solemn memory
    surmounted the immediate grievance. No! She did not think of such
    things with frivolous indifference, and Tom must not accuse her of
    that. She looked up at him with a grave, earnest gaze and said,--

    "I can't make you think better of me, Tom, by anything I can say. But
    I am not so shut out from all your feelings as you believe me to be. I
    see as well as you do that from our position with regard to Philip's
    father--not on other grounds--it would be unreasonable, it would be
    wrong, for us to entertain the idea of marriage; and I have given up
    thinking of him as a lover. I am telling you the truth, and you have
    no right to disbelieve me; I have kept my word to you, and you have
    never detected me in a falsehood. I should not only not encourage, I
    should carefully avoid, any intercourse with Philip on any other
    footing than of quiet friendship. You may think that I am unable to
    keep my resolutions; but at least you ought not to treat me with hard
    contempt on the ground of faults that I have not committed yet."

    "Well, Maggie," said Tom, softening under this appeal, "I don't want
    to overstrain matters. I think, all things considered, it will be best
    for you to see Philip Wakem, if Lucy wishes him to come to the house.
    I believe what you say,--at least you believe it yourself, I know; I
    can only warn you. I wish to be as good a brother to you as you will
    let me."

    There was a little tremor in Tom's voice as he uttered the last words,
    and Maggie's ready affection came back with as sudden a glow as when
    they were children, and bit their cake together as a sacrament of
    conciliation. She rose and laid her hand on Tom's shoulder.

    "Dear Tom, I know you mean to be good. I know you have had a great
    deal to bear, and have done a great deal. I should like to be a
    comfort to you, not to vex you. You don't think I'm altogether
    naughty, now, do you?"

    Tom smiled at the eager face; his smiles were very pleasant to see
    when they did come, for the gray eyes could be tender underneath the
    frown.

    "No, Maggie."

    "I may turn out better than you expect."

    "I hope you will."

    "And may I come some day and make tea for you, and see this extremely
    small wife of Bob's again?"

    "Yes; but trot away now, for I've no more time to spare," said Tom,
    looking at his watch.

    "Not to give me a kiss?"

    Tom bent to kiss her cheek, and then said,--

    "There! Be a good girl. I've got a great deal to think of to-day. I'm
    going to have a long consultation with my uncle Deane this afternoon."

    "You'll come to aunt Glegg's to-morrow? We're going all to dine early,
    that we may go there to tea. You _must_ come; Lucy told me to say so."

    "Oh, pooh! I've plenty else to do," said Tom, pulling his bell
    violently, and bringing down the small bell-rope.

    "I'm frightened; I shall run away," said Maggie, making a laughing
    retreat; while Tom, with masculine philosophy, flung the bell-rope to
    the farther end of the room; not very far either,--a touch of human
    experience which I flatter myself will come home to the bosoms of not
    a few substantial or distinguished men who were once at an early stage
    of their rise in the world, and were cherishing very large hopes in
    very small lodgings.
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